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Painter Did Not Tie Off, Employer Says

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

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A bridge painter who drowned after falling from the Lewis and Clark Bridge in Washington State had been wearing a harness but had not tied off, his employer said Tuesday (Nov. 6).

Stavros Semanderes, owner of Odyssey Contracting (also known as Odyssey Painting Co.), said that the death of Charles William "Bill" Wiley Jr., 40, was due to "human error"—specifically, to Wiley's failure to tie off.

"The fact is that the body was recovered and he had the harness on," Semanderes said. "He [messed] up. He didn't hook up."

Bill Wiley

His employer called Bill Wiley "very safety conscious and diligent."

Wiley fell into the Columbia River from the Lewis and Clark Bridge on Oct. 7. His body was recovered Saturday afternoon (Nov. 4) six to eight miles downstream.

Wiley worked for Odyssey/Geronimo JV, which has been painting the bridge since mid-2010 under a $33.7 million contract with the Washington State Department of Transportation.

'No Way to Prevent It'

Wiley fell while painting the span between Longview, WA, and Rainier, OR. He was presumed drowned at the time.

The local Sheriff's Office said told KOIN-TV several weeks after the accident that it was "still not exactly known how or why the safety equipment that Mr. Wiley was wearing did not prevent his fall."

Semanderes said Tuesday that the reason was that Wiley had not tied in—an oversight, he said, his company could not have prevented.

"What am I going to do?" he said. "Are you going to check everybody every second? You're supposed to be tied in 100 percent."

Semanderes said he had about 50 painters working on the bridge at the time. He said Wiley had been a "safe" worker and was "never observed not hooking up. I think it was an accident. There was no way to prevent it."

He added: "You need the worker to be conscious and responsible for his safety. Certainly, his mind was not on the job."

Lewis & Clark Bridge
Odyssey Contracting / WSDOT

Odyssey/Geronimo JV has a $33.7 million contract to paint the Lewis and Clark Bridge.

'Diligent Employee'

In a statement by the company, Odyssey-Geronimo called Wiley "an experienced union journeyman bridge painter" who had worked on the Lewis and Clark project for two seasons. "He was a very safety conscious and diligent employee," the release said.

The company said that the only co-worker to see Wiley fall took immediate action, contacting his supervisor and telling other crew members to call 911. A boat reached the scene "in less than four minutes," but "even such a quick response could not help Bill as no one saw him return to the surface after the fall."

Prior Deaths

Wiley's was the third fatality involving an Odyssey employee in three years.

On Tuesday, Semanderes reiterated that the December 2010 death of painter Ercio Gasques, 29, of Newark, NJ, was unavoidable. Gasques died in a 40-foot fall from the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge in Maine. After being cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Odyssey paid a $5,600 fine for the death on the $9.3 million contract.

Semanderes said after that accident that "human error" was to blame for it.

McKees Rock Bridge, PA

In 2009, Michael L'Hereaux fell to his death while performing abrasive blasting on the McKees Rocks Bridge in Pennsylvania.  His employer says L'Hereaux cut the cable that held his plaform.

On the other hand, Semanderes said Tuesday that employee Michael L'Hereaux's death in October 2009 was his own responsibility. L'Hereaux was one of four employees performing abrasive blasting on the McKees Rocks Bridge in McKees Rocks, PA. L'Hereaux fell 124 feet to his death when the scaffolding from which he was working collapsed.

"Analysis revealed extreme ablative damage to the wires at the failure site, significant enough to cause the wire rope to fail," OSHA records said. The company paid a $12,600 fine in that case.

Cable Cut Cited

OSHA's records do not indicate which of the blasters caused the damage, but Semanderes said L'Hereaux had cut the cable. In an email to PaintSquare News, Semanderes wrote:

"The cable did not fail, it was cut by the man who fell to his death. OSHA did an extensive investigation and tests and determined that for the wire rope to be cut he had to work on it with his nozzle for over one minute. The cable was not damaged by other workers, it was cut by the man that was killed."

The email said that all three fatal accidents "were thoroughly investigated by the proper Federal and Local authorities and found that the cause in each case was operator error and not due to company neglect. They found that we had provided all the proper equipment, training, and did prudent monitoring and enforcement of our safety plan.

"We feel sorry for the individuals lost and their families, but there is nothing more than we could have done at the time to prevent these unfortunate events."

'Loving Husband and Father'

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is investigating Wiley's death.

In the release, Wiley's employer called him "a loving husband and father ... and a well-liked co-worker who will be missed."

"Our hearts go out to his family, and we will do all we can to ease the pain of their loss," the statement said. "May God give rest to Bill’s gentle soul and strength to his family to deal with their loss."



Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Accidents; Bridges; Fall protection; Fatalities; Industrial Contractors; OSHA; Painters; Painting Contractor; Scaffolding

Comment from eddie howard, (11/7/2012, 6:25 PM)

You have 50 painters where were your helpers we in texas always have a buddy system in tact where if I was not tied off my buddy would tell me 100 percent tied off at 6 ft to the moon

Comment from Jessica Gasques, (11/7/2012, 10:41 PM)

I find this sad and all too familiar. Ercio Gasques, Junior was my husband. It was also determined that he didn't tie off as well. His "buddy" was nowhere to be found and then his co-workers were telling people it was a suicide. How many more women are going to bury their husbands because of this company? What will I tell my son? I guess Junior was only worth $5,600.

Comment from Regina Montgomery, (11/9/2012, 11:28 AM)

My condolences Jessica.

Comment from Stavros Semanderes, (11/9/2012, 1:38 PM)

As the President of Odyssey Contracting Corp, I would like to clarify the record with the following important facts not previously presented clearly. The penalties accessed by OSHA against our company were not related to the fatalities but rather to some other conditions observed during the investigation. Each fatality did not stem from the violations cited and the penalties assessed had nothing to do with the fatality. The monetary loss to dependants is determined by state workman compensation law. Fair financial compensation is provided to all legal dependants of the deceased. Our insurance carrier is one of the biggest and most reputable companies in the industry and honors all legitimate claims. Thorough investigation by the proper authorities determined the cause of each accident to be due to human error. Neither policy, systems, equipment, procedures nor administration were at fault for any of these accidents. We do hazards analyses for each and every job and provide the best available equipment and training to safeguard our workers. No one is allowed to work alone. We pay an annual safety bonus (of $0.50/ hr) to each worker based on hours worked without accident or safety rules violations. To encourage group safety consciousness, anyone violating safety rules takes away the bonus not only from himself but from his whole crew for that week. At the time of each accident, we gave immediate financial help to the families for them to deal with funeral arrangements and other unexpected expenses, even though this was not required of us. We view our workers not only as a valuable asset but as co-workers and friends with the same goal “providing for our families”. No matter how the accident happened, we lament their loss.

Comment from Rich Ferrer, (6/16/2013, 9:00 AM)

I am a past employee of odyssey in fact worked for them for ten years. This company has a good safety program. Anything you needed they provided. These accidents were just that, accidents. In the field you have to do your part to be safe. 100% tie off means you tie off 100% of the time. When you don't you are taking a risk.

Comment from Melissa Wiley, (12/2/2013, 1:57 PM)

My name is melissa wiley the wife of charles w. Wiley(bill) that died oct.7th on the lewis and clark bridge in washington I need to let mr. Stavros semanderes know that his blunt blame on the employees sickens me to my core let the facts be known that I have in an 81 page report of bills death from the 1st. 911 call to the end the tarp that bill fell off of the o rings were ripped, torn, missing not thier so mr.semanderes don't u dare place blame on my husb. U can never imagine the heartache a family endures loosin thier loved ones our son bills only child has to go tru life without his father nothin in the world would have kept bill from ever returnin home to him damn sure not his own fault u a comment surely his mind wasn't on his job think twice his job was his lively hood an I assure you he was one of the best at his job so think about ur blunt disrespect to the familys that u comment about those men where human beings!! Husbands, fathers, sons, bestfriends to many so watch ur mouth next time cause I'm sure it'll happen again by no fault of the employees, but tru faulted equipment or what have you

Comment from Billy Russell, (12/3/2013, 4:31 AM)

Mrs Wiley, My prayers to you and your son for the loss of your Husband.

Comment from Victoria Terronez, (12/3/2013, 11:05 AM)

Melissa Wiley and others: I too, cannot understand how a competent employee who has been diligently working in a very dangerous environment/job will all the sudden go against Safety procedure that he/she knows can cause their Fatal demise. My 29 year old Son Winfred Davis has now been claimed to have caused his own death as well when he fell from a water tower in Mount Vernon Iowa in August, 2013. My Son worked for Arndt Enterprises, Inc. (Dewitt, Ia.) who was subcontracted by a Huge company out of Georgia who have had many fatalities. The stories from the time of his death till now have changed through all involved from committing suicide to not being tied off to not being tied off properly to not being trained properly. The only ones sited was Arndts co. who got a slap on the wrist from OSHA for some non- safety regulations. My Son left behind two small children who he worked very hard for daily. Not too mention all the others who Loved him dearly. Every worker has a right to return home to their loved ones at the end of the day. Seems many do not truly deserve this as they did something wrong, as if they do these jobs just to leave their Loved ones. Really, how about the fact that many of the companies do not consistently do safety checks on their equipment or replace bad equipment as they are suppose to. How about they have leads/supervisors who are not even truly qualified to be that and yet play the role only the best way they can so they can get a little more money and the company saves money by putting their inexperienced person in the role. How about these companies overload certain workers doing jobs that should have a partner with yet have him do it alone all the time 100's of feet up in the air with all the elements upon him with not correct breaks and so forth. And how about having other employees working with diligent ones who constantly cause safety issues because they are cheap labor and do not even speak English. Or how thorough investigations that are suppose to happen but when everything from the site is taken away the day of the fatality and no gets their for days. Too many fatalities are happening left and rite in this industry. We all have a rite to know what truly caused them and how companies need to do a better job in Safety and regulations. And I totally agree with Mrs. Wiley. I am not just a Mother Scorned but a Mother who now lives without the Son who did so much for so many and whom she was so very very proud of.

Comment from Leonidas Gialousis, (12/5/2013, 12:54 AM)

I too would once again offer my condolences to Melissa and Bills son. I personally worked side by side with Bill for over 10 years as a supervisor and foreman. It came as a complete shock to me when I learned of this tragic incident. It could of been anyone else and I might have believed it but Bill was one that in my 30 plus years in this industry was one of very few men that can execute the most difficult of tasks when it came to the rigging. I not only supervise the rigging crews I personally work side by side with each and every one of them. Bill was one that I would assign the most difficult of tasks and never have to give it a second thought. I have been thru many OSHA "random" inspections and I can tell you that they left no stone unturned even though there has never been any serious accidents on any of our projects they still pick and pick till they find something, fortuanately these visits as much as we hate them have also educated us in the field over the years. This is why I cannot understand how not just Bill but other men get killed in this industry and "human error" and a slap on the wrist is acceptable. How about where he should have been tied off to, during rigging operations its fast moving and you travel in many areas of the structure and its very easy for any worker to forget to tie off. On a superstucture such as the one Bill was on, no man should ever go attempt a task alone and the supervisor or foreman should be right there along side of them to watch every move each man makes so there is no room for human error. The safety issue is addressed right there and then, not at a safety meeting before or after work where the employees could care less about whats being discussed and the employer just wants that safety meeting sheet signed off. I agree with Melissa that it is appauling that the employer would be so callous in his attitude toward the incident. we all understand that the company must protect itself during an incident such as this but Bill and any man that loses their life deserve better than that. They work hard to support their families and that is exactly what Bill was doing. He travelled all the way to the other side of the country just for a better opportunity that was difficult to pass up, and I wish the company that I was with at the time could have offered him the same so he would not have had to make such an extreme move. I lost one of the hardest working men that I have ever encountered over the years and a truly good friend,you will be missed Bill.

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